Santa Monica Recognizes Employees with The Elaine Award

July 25, 2018
by Rick Cole

 Santa Monica Recognizes Employees with The Elaine Award

Farmers Market Supervisor Laura Avery flexes at one of the four weekly Santa Monica Farmers Markets

By Rick Cole

Former Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek set a superb standard for public leadership, honesty, courage and dedication to serving others. An avid sports fan, she kept in her office at City Hall a collection of bobblehead figures of Dodger and Kings players she and her husband had collected over the years. So when it came time to honor her three decades of service to Santa Monica, we had our own “Elaine” bobblehead created with Elaine dressed as “Superwoman” in front of the Pier Ferris Wheel. We ordered two – one to give her at her last City Council meeting – and another to launch a new tradition. I felt the best way to honor her example was to recognize other City staff who follow in her footsteps of going the extra mile to serve our community.

So each week, I personally deliver the “Elaine” award to those who exemplify our commitment to excellent service. We know residents don’t often personally have the opportunity to meet many of the faces behind the services this City delivers, so we share a roundup of the "Elaine" recipients from the last four months. We hope you enjoy getting to know more of the people who contribute to making Santa Monica a city that works for everyone. Below is a look at who has received the award since March 2018.

Laura Avery, Farmers Market Supervisor

Department of Housing and Economic Development (Pictured Above)

Farmers Market Supervisor Laura Avery received her Elaine award back in early March 2018. Laura is the face and the inspiring innovator who has presided over the Santa Monica Farmers Market program since 1982. Over those three and a half decades, she has helped grow the program to include four markets operating three days per week, perennially recognized as one of the premier farmers markets in the nation.

Laura is a giant in the "farm to fork" food revolution born in Southern California that has changed how we dine out and what we eat at home. She is a thoughtful leader whose radio voice on KCRW has educated, informed and elevated public understanding of food, farmers, health and economics. Laura has boosted California farmers access to local customers to provide residents availability of fresh, regional and organic produce. In addition to being recognized by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for her contributions to the program, Laura was also named as one of the most influential women by Los Angeles Magazine, interviewed by the LA Weekly and has been recognized by the California legislature for her leadership in the farmers market industry. Additionally, in 1997, she assisted with the creation of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District farmers market salad bar, offering fresh market produce as an alternative to the traditional school lunch.

Leading the Farmers Market team in our Department of Housing and Economic Development, Laura is a stand out example within the City for her entrepreneurial spirit and tireless public service. Congratulations!

Senior Advisor on Homelessness Alisa Orduna, Human Services Administrator Maggie Willis, and Senior Marketing Manager Erin Taylor

City Manager's Office, Community & Cultural Services, and Office of Communications

Senior Advisor on Homelessness Alisa Orduña, Human Services Administrator Maggie Willis, and Senior Marketing Manager Erin Taylor earned their Elaine award for an excellent job launching the Homeless Count last week and hosting the first public Homelessness Steering Committee meeting with 100 residents in attendance.

As everyone knows, the homelessness issue is a long-standing, complex and contentious one. Much work has gone on behind the scenes to launch a cohesive network of stakeholders to engage our entire community in tackling homelessness together effectively. The City's interdepartmental team (led by new team member Orduña, veteran Willis and comms pro Taylor) together to convene a broad coalition of diverse stakeholders. It was a challenge to get all groups represented, but it came together with attendance surpassing expectations. Erin worked to finalize a practical toolkit on homelessness for the community, which was so well received that we completely ran out!

The Elaine award goes to both individuals and teams for work that goes the extra mile to serve our community. In this instance, these three leaders showed how to create strong partnerships beyond City government with our Commissions, non-profit service providers, houses of faith, business sector, civic groups and residents.

Congratulations on setting the tone and structuring the meeting format to promote robust community collaboration on homelessness moving forward. And thank you to the many others who contributed to last week's launch of the committee and Homeless Count results. Your all-in commitment in addressing homelessness was clear through the media briefing, Council presentation, and public meeting. Thank you!

Financial Systems and Payroll Administrator Gayle Kirby, Principal Financial Systems Analyst Steve Gomez, and Lead Systems Analyst Sreekanth Maddali

Finance and Information Services

One of the biggest and most ambitious projects going in in our City -- and one that will affect every one of us -- is the new backbone financial management system the City is implementing. From issuing our paychecks to tracking our expenditures, the new software will upgrade our entire way of doing business. In mid-March, the Elaine Award went to Financial Systems and Payroll Administrator Gayle Kirby (FIN), Principal Financial Systems Analyst Steve Gomez (FIN) and Lead Systems Analyst Sreekanth Maddali (ISD) for their work on the financial portion of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

Finance Director Gigi Decavalles called out the group's hard work spanning the last four years to bring the financial portion of ERP to fruition:

Thanks to the unlimited dedication of Gayle Kirby, Steve Gomez and Sreekanth Maddali. Working out of their war room in the Ken Edwards Center, this group has worked tirelessly since 2014 to first select the right system for the City and then implement it.

Implementation of an ERP system is very complicated—team members need to learn the intricacies of a system and then meld them with the myriad of steps that make up our procurement, accounting, payroll and budgeting processes, as well as other processes that affect the work of everyone in the City.

Gayle, Steve and Sreekanth have done this by using their deep knowledge of the City's systems and processes and championing a broader collaboration with subject matter experts and future customers of the system, to make sure that we maintain the integrity of our internal controls while also keeping our work as streamlined as possible. Next up is citywide training on the new system before Go Live, after which the team will continue to work with the Human Resources ERP team on the implementation of the Human Resources/Payroll portion of the ERP.

Congratulations Gayle, Steve and Sreenkanth, and keep up the hard work ! The "go live" moment happened July 1 rounding out the team's tireless work that ensured a smooth transition to the new system.

Systems & Network Manager Sarkis Metspakyan, Principal Technology Analyst Eric Uller, Communications Engineer Herry Poernomo, Construction Specialist Tim Purcell, CIP Project Manager Joel Cesare, and Administrative Intern Jake Lee

Information Services and Public Works

In late March 2018, the Minimum Point of Entry (MPOE) to the telecom room in the Public Safety Facility basement began flooding. The room supports most voice and data circuits for the City, including 911 circuits. If the water damaged the equipment, these vital communication channels could have gone down.

Public Works and Information Services partnered to rapidly respond to the flooding, bringing in SERVPRO flood specialists and collaborating with City Services Building contractors to pump the room. The City dodged a bullet because of the quick and effective response from the team. There were no outages or critical service outages during the event while the team stayed in close communication and worked all night to ensure the MPOE stayed active.

As you can see from the photo the room was heavily flooded, and it was only because of the rapid response of the PW and ISD teams that critical equipment was not more severely damaged. Herry Poernomo was the first employee to discover the flooding, and he quickly alerted Sarkis Metspakyan and Eric Uller, who conducted a quick assessment of the area and alerted Public Works. PW stayed late into the night and arrived a few hours later early in the morning to ensure all systems remained operational. Joel and Tim coordinated with the contractors and Jake’s creative genius came through as he augmented the City tool kit with hair dryers keeping communication lines dry.

Librarian III Nancy Bender, and Adult Literacy Program Assistants Tara Crow and Jennifer Michel-McNally

Santa Monica Public Library

In celebration of the first anniversary of the Adult Literacy Program, the next Elaine Award went to the staff crucial to this program's success: Nancy Bender, Tara Crow and Jennifer Michel-McNally. This week's nomination comes from Director of Library Services Patty Wong and Assistant City Librarian Erica Cuyugan:

Since receiving the California Library Literacy Services grant in 2016 and getting the program off the ground in Spring 2017, the Adult Literacy team has done a phenomenal job by pairing 22 (soon to be more!) pairs of adult learners and literacy coaches. To date, the efforts of this team include interviewing and training tutor volunteers, evaluating and assessing learners, providing outreach and promoting the program to the public and strategically pairing learners and tutors to get the best fit for achieving goals. With over 700 hours of tutoring and 1,232 hours of volunteer hours donated, the program really concentrates on meeting the learners where they are in life and helping them accomplish their goals—whether it is learning to read, reading at a higher level, completing a job application or beyond. The Adult Literacy team at the Santa Monica Public Library continues to improve and transform people’s lives, one pair at a time.

Congratulations Nancy, Tara and Jennifer. Keep up the great work!

Photo: Adult Literacy learners and coaches with State Librarian George Lucas (center), library staff, and the Adult Literacy staff at the Santa Monica Public Library, including this week's Elaine winners Nancy Bender (fourth from the right), Tara Crow (second from the right), and Jennifer Michel-McNally (third from the right).

Staff Assistant III Kyle Ferstead and Anonymous

Planning & Community Development and Community & Cultural Services

Sometime in April, the Elaine Award went to the co-winner PCD staff Assistant III Kyle Ferstead -- who along with an anonymous member of our Human Services Division helped a young woman outside City Hall who was having a mental health crisis. The City Manager delivered the Elaine to her; joining Kyle is Planning Manager Jing Yeo.

Big Blue Bus Safety and Training Team: Liseth Guizar, Ali Showkatian, Al Davis, Jose Ramirez, Miguel Flores, Hector Calvinisti, Raecelle Ruffin, Rosona Starks and Liberty Nacional

Big Blue Bus

The following week, the Elaine Award was given to the Big Blue Bus Safety and Training team. When it comes to navigating LA and Santa Monica traffic carrying our riders, nothing is more important than safety! The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) awarded the City of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus the Gold Award for Bus Safety and Security. The Gold Award honors organizations with the best overall bus safety and security program for all transit organizations throughout the United States.

Ed King, Director of Transit Services for BBB recognized the hard work of the Safety and Training Team, "We have invested significant resources over the last three years to launch a comprehensive employee safety program that provides intensive training and retraining programs for all BBB staff. These strategic investments are paying off with a tangible reduction in preventable accident rates and passenger injuries. We are honored to have the hard work of staff recognized by APTA with this top award.”

Here is what the team was honored for:

  • Rollout of a comprehensive and interactive accident review and retraining process.
  • Extensive rail safety education campaign prior to the inauguration of Metro’s Expo Line in 2016.
  • Relaunch of BBB’s “Hazard/Near Miss” employee safety reporting program.
  • Mandatory quarterly safety meetings for all Motor Coach Operators with safety topics focused on service delivery.
  • As a result, BBB has steadily decreased its preventable accident rate from 2.21 accidents per 100,000 miles in fiscal year (FY) 2015 to 1.83 accidents per 100,000 miles in FY 2017. The passenger injury rate also decreased from 1.89 injuries per 100,000 miles in FY 2015 to .41 injuries per 100,000 miles in FY 2017

A representative went to the national conference in May to accept the award. Congratulations to all on the team and for continuing to roll out exceptional service daily to its riders! And thanks to all the staff at Big Blue Bus for making safety your priority!

The CCS RecScape Team

Community & Cultural Services

Community and Cultural Services has developed RecScape, a new a digital one-stop-shop for accessing classes for youth and adults, camps, aquatics programs, and information about sports fields, and facility rentals in Santa Monica's beautiful parks and beaches. Late April's Elaine Award winners were the All Star team that worked to make it happen:

Tati Simonian, Communications & Marketing Coordinator
Jamie Claus, Staff Assistant III
Danny Price, Principal Community Services Supervisor
Ebba Valenzuela, Community Services Program Supervisor (Classes)
Jennifer Villeda, Guest Services Assistant
Yvette Bendezu, Guest Services Assistant
Amy Cramer, Principal Community Services Supervisor
Heinz Davila, Aquatics Site Supervisor
Micah Akerson, Principal Community Services Supervisor
Bree Foth, Staff Assistant III
Brian Mondragon, Staff Assistant III
Heath Hamilton, Beach Recreations Supervisor
Evelyn Lim, Aquatics Site Supervisor
Aaron Orozco, Community Recreation Administrator

This is what Community Recreation Manager Bradley Albert had this to say about his nominees:

Many thanks to all the staff that worked tirelessly to make RecScape a reality! This milestone represents a major leap in the way we communicate with the community. RecScape is the one-stop-shop for accessing classes for youth and adults, camps, aquatics programs, and information about sports fields, and facility rentals in Santa Monica's beautiful parks and beaches. The digital publication includes live/hyperlinked classes that take the user straight into the City’s recreation management software system, ActiveNet, for registration.

Way to go CCS! Click to go directly to RecScape -- check it out!

CityTV Team for Producing the City Council Retreat

Office of Communications, City Manager's Office

Marcus Taddwilliams, Production Coordinator
Greg Van Gemert, Production Coordinator
Russ Maloney, Production Supervisor
Landis Stokes, Video Camera Operator
Alan Pineda, Video Engineer
Manny Alvarado, Video Intern
Wendy Nolan, Production Specialist
Gustavo Venegas, Production Specialist
Courtney Lauretano, Production Assistant
Astra Price, Production Assisant
Jordan Ellis, Production Technician
Kimi Graham Howard, Video Intern
Maxwell Gibbard, Production Assistant
Eric Scott, Production Assistant

The CityTV team earned their Elaine for pulling off the retreat filming and videos. Production Supervisor Russ Maloney had this to share about his team at the retreat:

Many things go into making a live television broadcast successful, and the most important is preparation. The crew was on site at 6 a.m. that day (after being there the night before), ready to handle any unforeseen issues, which are a normal part of any live broadcast. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to place the microphones to cover not only the members of the Council, but also the City staff. The crew was able to handle all of the challenges and allow people who couldn't attend the retreat to watch it live that morning or view it later online.

Although the Council Retreat was only three hours, planning began weeks ahead to deliver a quality product at the Thelma Terry room. On the day, the CityTV crew were first on scene and last to pack up. It was a great team effort!

Jennifer Taylor, Economic Development Administrator

Housing & Economic Development

This week's Elaine Award goes to Economic Development Administrator Jennifer Taylor for her role in coordinating and producing this year's Most Loved Awards Ceremony at City Hall. With nearly 30 winning businesses in attendance, as well as other nominees and guests, refreshments in the City Hall lobby and entertainment provided by a young troupe from the Morgan-Wixson Theater on Pico, this event was no easy undertaking.

Director of Housing & Economic Development Andy Agle shares his nomination of Jennifer (suggested by Erin Taylor): 

Jennifer Taylor is the unstoppable force behind the most loved competition and awards ceremony.  She had to plan and implement this year’s ceremony almost single-handedly because her normal partners were mostly unavailable.
I would like to nominate Jennifer Taylor for an Elaine Award.  While Jennifer might not seem like an unsung hero, I was surprised that when she went to the podium to present an award, Sue whispered to me, “So that’s Jennifer Taylor.  I’ve never seen her in person.”

Jennifer, who lives in town, is an enthusiastic and energetic champion of going green and buying local.  She lives her values -- and brings them to work every day.  She's a great example of the Elaine spirit -- another of our talented staff who make Santa Monica more prosperous, more sustainable and more beloved as a community to live, work and enjoy!

Jennifer Taylor (second from left) in her element supporting local businesses and charities during Buy Local, Give Local.

Santa Monica Police Department's Community Affairs Unit

Santa Monica Police Department

The Santa Monica PD's Community Affairs Unit earned their Elaine in May. Captain Darrick Jacob of the Strategic Services Division nominated the unit for launching a collaborative approach to bring the Police to the community. On May 2, the command center was deployed to Reed Park between 12 - 4 p.m. to engage with residents, to increase the visibility of the Police and to address community concerns.

SMPD posted photos and live videos of the command center receiving many positive reviews and likes. The Santa Monica Daily Press was also present photographing the deployment for an upcoming article. Thanks to concerted efforts of the members of the Community Affairs Unit, Optimus Crime will continue visiting other neighborhoods around Santa Monica to increase access to the Police and provide a platform for residents and visitors to ask questions. The unit members are:

Roberto Villegas, Sergeant
Richard Verbeck, Officer
Capri Redondo, Officer
Peter Lashley, Officer
Gustavo Cortez, Officer
Suzie Lockwood, Crime Prevention Coordinator
Myesha Morrison, Crime Prevention Coordinator
Alexandra Sanchez, Crime Prevention Coordinator

Congratulations to the Community Affairs Unit! We're looking forward to further deployments of Optimus Crime and the high quality of engagement it will bring to the city.

The affectionately nick-named mobile command center, Optimus Crime, is seen here at Reed Park with members of the Community Affairs Unit engaging with residents and visitors. Photo credit: Santa Monica Daily Press

Fire Battalion Chief Michael McElvaney

Santa Monica Fire Department

The Elaine Award was given to Fire Battalion Chief Michael McElvaney for his leadership in our homeless outreach efforts. Earlier this month, Chief McElvaney courteously engaged a homeless veteran in the midst of a mental health crisis outside of Starbucks on Olympic Blvd. Senior Advisor on Homelessness Alisa Orduña eloquently captures the Chief's actions:

A gentleman heading eastbound on Olympic approached the Starbucks on foot and began banging the windows. We could not hear what he was saying, but he was angry and beating his head. Staff quickly called 911 and locked the door, but Chief McElvaney got up and asked the manager to open the door so he could try and engage. He went outside and was able to get the gentleman to sit down and have a conversation. The man in crisis turned out to be a veteran and was hearing voices. Although he was connected with the VA, the man did not want transportation to the VA or to any other services including Urgent Psych. He admitted that he was taking his medication, but before patrol was able to arrive, a male companion – who was inside of Starbucks the entire time – walked out and joined the man. Both men walked away toward Tongva Park and Chief McElvaney briefed patrol.

Upon returning to City Hall, I spoke with HSD staffer Brian Hardgrave and emailed the details at which time Brian quickly forwarded and called the multidisciplinary teams and DTSM Ambassadors to be on alert.

Congrats Chief, and thank you for your leadership, long service and your courage, sensitivity and willingness to engage and assist -- you exemplify the spirit of creating a city that works for everyone!

The Arbor Day Team

Public Works Department

Urban Forest Staff:
Matthew Wells, Urban Forester
Wister Dorta, Urban Forest Supervisor
Peter Provenzale, Urban Forest Supervisor
Mike Wood, Tree Trimmer
Ariel Rodriguez, Groundskeeper

Public Landscape Staff:
Carlos Collard, Senior Administrative Analyst
Joel Britton, Administrative Analyst
Erin Carr, Staff Assistant III
Jessica Saks, Staff Assistant III

Trees are among Santa Monica's iconic symbols – and play a key role in softening our urban environment. So it's appropriate that this week's Elaine Award goes to the Public Works staff responsible for planning and organizing this year's Arbor Day event at Virginia Avenue Park! Public Landscapes Manager Hector Kistemann shares his nomination:

The Public Landscapes Admin staff (Carlos, Erin, Jessica and Joel) are doing a bang up job with their creativity and they continue to make this event better. Their creativity, coupled with the Urban Forest team's technical expertise and me just getting out of their way, bring us these results. We've also captured staff's feedback via a post event wrap up meeting to make it an even better event next year!

The Urban Forest and Public Landscape staffs are made up of some our most passionate and colorful staff characters – they really dig their jobs! Congratulations for organizing an excellent event and for engaging Santa Monicans of all ages about the importance of our urban forest.

Members of the Arbor Day organizing team.

The City Clerk Team

City Clerk's Office

Staff: Maria Dacanay, Leah Kellen, Saralani Anderson, Thania Montoya, Lupe Lara, and Esterlina Lugo

Back in May, the City Clerk’s Office attended SaMoHi’s Senior Week to register students to vote. Staff registered 30 students, answered elections questions and passed out giveaways. City Clerk staff also assisted with having City Hall serve as two polling locations for the Primary Election on June 5. Polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. The turnout for voting was steady and consistent. The City Clerk’s Office is always excited to work with the Los Angeles County Clerk’s Office during election years. To get the results of the Primary Election visit

Thank you to the City Clerk team for being stewards of the democratic process and for getting the next generation ready to participate!

The Future of Economic Sustainability Team: Julie Wedig, Jennifer Taylor, Jason Harris and Andy Agle

Housing and Economic Development

On June 2, Economic Development team members Jennifer Taylor and Jason Harris, Director Andy Agle, and Fellow Julie Wedig pulled off a daylong series of events exploring Santa Monica's economic future. Here are thoughts from Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta who is part of the team charged with creating a forward-thinking strategy on our changing economy.

"From our informal lunch through the very end of the panel discussion, the conversation was riveting, thought-provoking, and inspiring – and it all happened because of the hard work and preparation that this team carried out in selecting the speakers, preparing them effectively, constructing a series of varied and meaningful engagements throughout the day, and formatting a lively and compelling evening program as the centerpiece.

The feedback we’ve already been receiving from attendees, partners, and colleagues has been overwhelmingly positive. Our challenge in the weeks and months ahead is to craft a study that engages our full community, addresses the many challenges outlined yesterday, and maintains a focus on equity and shared prosperity – but we have tremendous momentum moving forward."

Many of the community leaders and active citizens who attended the evening forum described it as one of the best City forums they had ever attended. You can watch the fascinating dialogue here.

Thank you Julie, Jennifer, Jason and Andy for making it happen! And special thanks to Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis for a great kick-off address. We look forward to learning more in the months to come.

Public Works and Planning & Community Development Staff: Rushall Perkins, Glenn Murray, Joe Munoz, Russell Ackerman

Public Works and Planning & Community Development

Sometimes the small interactions in our city make all the difference with how we are perceived by the public. We always love when residents take time to thank our often under-appreciated staff. Recently, Inspector Supervisor John Guerrero and Lead Combination Building Inspector Michael Pauly received this glowing review from Steve, a Santa Monica resident who just completed the lengthy process of building a new home and wanted to show his appreciation for all of the staff support.

Steve wrote, "I started this project fearing the City of Santa Monica and its officials. Through the process, I realized that Glenn and others at the City were more knowledgeable and trustworthy than the others working on the project. I consider the City Of Santa Monica a trusted partner in the building process. The City's involvement resulted in a better building that I am proud of."

About Rushall Perkins, Permit Specialist, Steve wrote, "She was often available by phone and always in person and helped sort through various issues with the permits and the city's new computer system, all with a smile."

On Glenn Murray, Combination Building Inspector II, Steve wrote, " Glenn was extremely thorough, knowledgeable and considerate. He spent a considerable amount of time checking everything. I can honestly say that the Glenn and the city helped make the end result much better than it would have been with you and for that I'm sincerely grateful."

Regarding Joe Munoz, Public Works Inspector, Steve wrote that Joe, "went out of his way on numerous occasions to explain things to the subcontractor and stopped by repeatedly to make sure he was doing things correctly. He was extremely helpful, knowledgeable and giving with his time."

Finally, Russell Ackerman, Sustainability Analyst, "spent a considerable amount of time explaining nuances of various aspects of planting and irrigation for the entire project, identifying local merchants and telling us how to keep the grounds and plants looking great for years to come."

What a phenomenal review for the full team who helped Steve. Thank you for going above and beyond and giving this resident an outstanding experience!

Rushall Parkins, Joe Munoz, Russell Ackerman (left to right)

Motor Coach Operator Rochelle Beamon

Big Blue Bus

On June 13, Motor Coach Operator (MCO) Rochelle Beamon was driving her regular route on Ocean Ave., and observed two Bird scooter users riding along the bike lane. Neither rider had a helmet on. One of the scooter users began to swerve left and right, and suddenly lost control of his scooter. The scooter launched him into the travel lane, right in front of a Big Blue Bus. MCO Beamon’s quick reflexes and defensive driving training skills kicked in. She was able to expertly steer her bus and avoid what could have been a terrible, if not fatal, impact with the fallen scooter rider. The user was able to walk away shocked but uninjured. Rochelle shared:

“My main concern was to make sure I didn’t run him over. Years of driving and experience have taught me to observe constantly and to act quickly. I saw him, looked left and felt very grateful that it turned out the way it did. It feels great to know that I saved someone’s life.”

Thank you to MCO Beamon for her professionalism and incredible defensive driving, day in and day out. She represents the spirit of Big Blue!

Has a staff member gone above and beyond for you? Feel free to let us know by emailing with "The Elaine" in the subject line.

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